Sunday, December 03, 2006

I Think Bishop Schofield Has Missed a Couple of Things

This started, as so often happens, at Thinking Anglicans. The specific topic was the Diocesan Convention of San Joaquin. That Convention, led by Bishop John-David Schofield, passed on first reading changes in diocesan constitution and canons that would presume to distance San Joaquin from The Episcopal Church, and declare that diocese “constituent” within the Anglican Communion.

Among the other documents linked from the report on Thinking Anglicans was Bishop Schofield’s address to the Diocesan Convention. I read it, and felt moved to respond. Now, I initially responded on Thinking Anglicans; but I waxed eloquent (or at least verbose) and exceeded the 400-word guideline there (a wise guideline to which I humbly and happily accede).

But then, I have a blog. If I want to write so much, I can post it there. And here it is.

Perhaps there are many nits to pick in Bishop Schofield's address – issues of how accurately he recounts recent history, or how accurately he describes the positions and concerns of those with whom he disagrees; but others will do so, and probably better than I. Two things did strike me, especially in light of recent discussion in the blogosphere.

First, he specifically cited issues of ecumenical discussion and hope for union with Eastern Orthodoxy and with Roman Catholicism. Several recent discussions I've run across have noted that these are not the only large, international bodies of Christians with whom we interact ecumenically, much less nationally and locally in the Episcopal Church. A number of those other bodies are not so distressed at the ordination of women or full welcome of GLBT persons in the entire life of the Church, including orders. We are in conversation and sometimes in full communion with communities that maintain the historic Episcopate, but are not in communion with either Rome or Constantinople (the Lutherans, the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, and the Mar Thoma Church come to mind). We may find the similar structures - especially an initially similar Episcopate - of Rome and Constantinople attractive; but they hardly describe the whole Body of Christ. Citing ecumenical issues with only a part of the Body illustrates Bishop Schofield's inclinations regarding centralization of authority, and, in my opinion, clericalism.

Second, I find Bishop Schofield's image of Paul before Agrippa interesting. It certainly works to illustrate his perspective that San Joaquin is the prophetic voice. Or, perhaps it would if he were talking about San Joaquin. What impressed me was how very much he personalized the parallel with Paul. Yes, questions have been raised with and for him as an individual, ordained in The Episcopal Church (and for all his repetition of it, there is no institution called "The Anglican Communion" within which to be ordained - repetition doesn't make it so). However, his image of himself as so central, so pivotal, detracts from his focus on issues. Yes, there may be some consequences for him, but this is not about him, from either pole of the debate. His presentation suggests to me that he's not clear about that.

Let me make an analogy. I am a citizen of the United States, and of a State, and of a City. I am subject to all the laws of those various levels of government. I cannot deny one level to the exclusion of another, even it I might argue (even successfully) that the laws at one level supersede the level at another. Am I a citizen of the world? Yes, but only in a metaphorical sense. Am I subject to international law? Yes, but only under the terms of agreements between the United States. At this time, for all the promises or worries the phrase entails, there is no World Government.

In parallel (and if the analogy is imperfect, I still think it is apt), I am a priest with a specific position in a particular diocese within The Episcopal Church. I am subject to the canons and policies of all those levels of authority. I cannot deny one level to the exclusion of another, even if I might argue (even successfully) that canons at one level might supersede canons at another level. Am I a member of the Anglican Communion? Yes, but only metaphorically. Am I responsible within the Anglican Communion? Yes, but only under the terms of the relationships among those various provinces of the Communion, made somewhat substantial by recognition by the See of Canterbury and participation in the Instruments of Communion. And those relationships are provincial, and not diocesan. I am no more individually related to the Archbishop of Canterbury than to my own Presiding Bishop, or to the Primate of Canada or the Primus of Scotland. We share in Christ’s grace, and we are recipients of Anglican tradition; but in terms of the Anglican Communion, I am connected to them in and through the relationships between provinces. In those parallel structures of how we as human beings have organized ourselves under God, my specifically Anglican connections, unlike my general Christian connections, are through the structures and not despite them.

All in all, I do not find Bishop Schofield's argument persuasive. We have yet to see the consequences of his leadership of his diocese within the context of the institution he used to recognize as his church. In the meantime, I think it is important to see ourselves within the entire Body of Christ, and not simply within the Anglican limb; and to recognize that if I am heeding Christ’s call to seek and serve “the least of these,” I have to remember, however strongly I might feel, that this isn’t all about – it isn’t even, it can’t be, even mostly about - me.


Young fogey emeritus said...

+San Joaquin: a Catholic gentleman, 'priest trained at this house', the man of the hour, the man for us (Catholics around the world). Ad multos annos!

That said, I'll read through your arguments, Father.

First, he specifically cited issues of ecumenical discussion and hope for union with Eastern Orthodoxy and with Roman Catholicism.

A no-brainer. Combined they're something like at least two-thirds of the world's Christians. When one thinks and speaks of the great Catholic family in practice one is referring to them. There are also the much smaller Oriental Orthodox communion (Copts, Ethiopians, Armenians and Syrians including the Malankara Church in India) and the Assyrian Church of the East (Nestorians). All of whom happen to agree with +San Joaquin on the controverted issues which shows they're not just John-David Schofield's opinions. Only the Roman communion is highly or at all centralised so he's not a clericalist either. (Clericalism is wrong. As a Catholic he is a sacerdotalist, something entirely different.)

...not so distressed at the ordination of women or full welcome of GLBT persons in the entire life of the Church, including orders.

You're misrepresenting Catholics here, Father. All are welcome to come and pray in a Catholic church. Orientation is a non-issue regarding that and orders. (And as you probably know as an Anglican insider many, many Anglo-Catholics are homosexual. Makes no difference to me.) What's not welcome, of course, which you object to, is approval of homosexual activity.

As for the ordination of women, the larger church (the great Catholic family) > everything else. The arguments behind it, basically turning the church upside down by insisting that holy orders in themselves are man-made and thus changeable, are complete non-starters for Catholics. Sure, there are Catholics who are misogynists. Doesn't matter. I'm not one of those.

Lutherans are a mixed lot like Anglicans; there are pockets of Lutheranism where I'd feel at home. But they're Protestant. Rome by far trumps the Old Catholics, now an irrelevant rump sect in Central Europe. The Mar Thoma people are former Malankara Oriental Orthodox essentially now Anglicans but I understand they are conservative, as are many Third World Anglicans, about the controversial issues here.

+San Joaquin's people are with him; to say or imply he's stuck on himself here, that vanity or narcissism is his main motive as you seem to have done, is slanderous. So it's not character assassination when liberals do it, Father?

AFAIK only one parish has voted to stay in the Episcopal Church and I interpret +San Joaquin's recent statements as honouring their choice and letting them go in peace with their building.

So nobody in central Calfornia who wants to remain in your church is being deprived of anything.

He and I are not about taking congregations' homes away, which it seems the TEC liberals want badly to do out of spite.

I understand the national church's legal claim to the buildings but California law favours parishes in these cases.

If you go to court it may be a Pyrrhic victory for you: you will have destroyed a lot of vital parishes and spent millions on lawyers ... to get a bunch of empty buildings, probably likely to remain so.

You seem to resent the fact that central Californians, at least most Anglicans there, are conservative and overwhelmingly don't want the liberal religion of TEC.

In the meantime, I think it is important to see ourselves within the entire Body of Christ, and not simply within the Anglican limb; and to recognize that if I am heeding Christ’s call to seek and serve “the least of these.”

Which is exactly what +San Joaquin is trying to do.

Marshall Scott said...

Goodness, Serge!

I took some time to look at your blog, and especially at the "About" page. I won't pretend I understand everything. I would need more time to know you better. However, I think I understand a more about your context than I understood before.

There are many who share Bishop Schofield's opinions. There are many who share mine. You would agree, at least in principle, that the numbers game is not in itself compelling. I would agree that if we are to listen to each Christian, the opinions of more Christians is worthy of attention. That said, each of us as individuals, and each of the institutions in which we participate, has to take a stand on what Christ wants now as we participate in his process of bringing in the kingdom. As a libertarian, I'm sure you appreciate this.

Yeah, the Romans and the Eastern Orthodox are quite the majority. Yeah, on the social understanding of sexuality, perhaps most Christians around the world would disagree with us. That is not the same as saying either that other ecumenical relationships should be irrelevant to us or that those other groups, even if they disagree with us, consider us apostate, calling us non-Christian. The Bishop's exclusion of consideration of other ecumenical relationships suggests that he does consider them irrelevant, or perhaps convenient when they agree and irrelevant when they disagree. (And your dismissal of them, based on numbers, does you no credit, either.)

For all that the ecclesiology of the Eastern Orthodox churches is less centralized than that of the Roman Catholic Church, there is certainly much less participation of the laity as an order of ministry in those churches. As to whether the Bishop is clericalist: that's the impression he left me with, based on his empasis.

Are Bishop Schofield's parishioners with him? A majority certainly; but it also certainly sounds like it's less overwhelming than he presents, and less pervasive. Certainly, more than one congregation holds membership in the Via Media related group in San Joaquin; and their witness es that even congregations with conservative leadership are less monolithic than he suggests. (You've seen the same statements I have.) It remains to be seen whether anyone in San Joaquin is deprived of anything, whether departing conservative or remaining moderate and liberal. There's a lot to be seen before we actually know that story. As I've noted elsewhere, I've been witness in the past to, if you will, a Pyrrhic loss. The Diocese of Michigan lost in court twice when Mariners Church in Detroit departed that Diocese. However, the loss demonstrated that Mariners Church was unique in its entry in to the Diocese. Another half dozen congregations were thinking then of leaving over Prayer Book and ordination of women. The trial demonstrated that those congregations did not have the unique characteristic, and that those parishes would lose in court if it went there. So, the Diocese fought one battle and, even though they lost, prevented another six. Yes, many folks we both read are calling for a summary judgement, as it were. All I am certain of is that we don't know yet.

Character assassination. Fogey? I think you're overreacting. What I said was his personalizing of the issues undermined, in my opinion, his intent to parallel the mission he sees, and many see with him, for the Diocese of San Joaquin. Rather than rhetorically marking the moments, the issues as parallel, he marked the experiences - the personal experiences - as parallel. Now, I'm sure he's not delusional. I'm sure he's not confused. I haven't assailed his character so much as I've questioned his rhetorical technique. I think he might have paralleled the issues, and the experience of the diocese with Paul before Agrippa. I might not have been convinced, but neither would I have been confused. In my opinion he came off in that instance as grandiose. Now, I do that sometimes, too. In this instance I don't think it did him or his argument any favors.

Resent those in central California who disagree with me? I only resent people I know, and blessedly few of them. I disagree with those folks. I think they're misguided, and I think it's because their guides are inaccurate. It's not the same emotion.

On the other hand, I certainly do resent being told that I am, either personally or by association, apostate. Now that's character assassination!

Young fogey emeritus said...

Thank you, Father, for being fair enough to have a good look at my blog and other pages.

Thought of the fallacy of the numbers game (mob rule, might makes right) when I wrote what I did but my point was when there is a consensus in the Catholic family it's not really a matter of opinion in the modern sense. (I understand that 'opinion' means something more important traditionally, as in theologoumenon.) That also goes for the understanding of sexuality, not merely 'social'.

I know it looks like my dismissal was based on numbers but not really. It's based on believing that Catholicism is objectively the truth. Whether something has two members or two millions if it's not Catholic it's wrong.

I read your account of the Mariners' Chapel at Fr Jake's. Not surprising really - in most of these cases, except in Californian law, the diocese calls the shots.

Again I hope for fairness and charity all round. (The Golden Rule.) I believe that +San Joaquin will keep his word as a gentleman that the TEC minority who want to leave him may go in peace and not lose their church home(s).

And I understand and agree regarding calling all in TEC apostate. As I wrote to somebody else today:

'I have to object literally to the statement that anybody sound who remains in TEC is stupid. There are decent people there, fine Christians, even among the people I don't agree with. Those staying and fighting may lose in the long run but remember, all church ultimately is local. If one is in a sound parish in at least a laissez-faire diocese why leave right now?'

Oremus pro invicem.

John Beeler